I was in my late twenties the first time I fished with a fly (or any insect) that
wasn't alive before I stuck it on a hook. Then I began dating the woman who
would eventually become my wife, and I met her father.
Gerry was a little guy, maybe 5'8" and 125 pounds dripping wet. He grew up in
the 1930's around Reno, Nevada, before it became a gambling resort. Gerry served
in the military during World War 2, like so many of his generation. He was an aerial
gunner and mechanic in the Navy, flying patrols from Bermuda on PBY seaplanes.
Gerry had a lot of funny stories to tell about those days, and used to laugh when he
said the only combat he saw took place in bars.
He married after the war, bought a used Packard convertible, and attended Mesa
State College briefly before transferring to Colorado State University. After graduating
with a Civil Engineering degree, Gerry moved his family back to Grand Junction and
helped start the Grand Junction Steel Company. He spent his entire career there,
becoming the Chief Engineer before retiring in the mid-1980s.
Gerry loved Lake Powell, in southern Utah, and was famous for his weekend boat
parties there during the '60s and '70s. He was also an avid fly angler, managing to
fish just about every lake, river, and stream in Colorado during his life.
His health was failing by the time I met him, and he no longer fished or went into the
mountains. His travel was limited to driving Cricket, his 7-ounce Yorkshire terrier,
to the veterinarian, or maybe to the old Safeway for groceries. Once a week he had
dinner and a few drinks with friends, until even that became too much.
When I married his daughter in 1987, he gave me the bamboo fly rod he bought in
1946, along with some advice on using it.
"Fish the whole river," he said. "Don't expect the fish to be where you think they ought
to be." He also told me to keep things simple. "Don't get all tied up over flies. Just use
little ones that look like bugs. The fish don't know any better."
If I complained after a day of not catching anything, he would tell me to remember why
I went up there. "The point is simply being there, not catching fish," he'd say. I took his
point, but I chuckle about that even now. Gerry loved to eat trout more than anyone I've
ever met. He once told me that if the trout were being finicky, and no one was looking,
he'd stick a worm on his fly. That may upset a fly-fishing purist, but Gerry never went
home without dinner.
So much for just being there.
When I learned how much he liked trout, I always tried to keep a few in the freezer for
nights when Gerry came to dinner. I don't know if it made him feel bad, since he couldn't
go up in the mountains to catch his own anymore. He never said. I do know that in
return for a few trout dinners, Gerry gave me years of friendship and hours of fishing
I think I got the best of that deal.
Before I moved away from Grand Junction, I used to drive over to fish the beaver
ponds that Gerry told me about near Gunnison. The small brook trout in the ponds
are skittish, and you have to approach quietly. That's almost impossible to do with
all the brush and snags, but it's well worth the effort. I've lost a hundred flies in the
willows around those ponds, but that's OK. Gerry left his share of flies up there too,
so mine are in good company.
One of Gerry's favorite places to fish was Sunset Lake up on the Grand Mesa.
Access is better now than when he first went up there forty years ago, and the
tourists fish it out by mid-June each year. Despite the crowds and bad fishing, I
still go there periodically - for Gerry. I seldom catch anything, but I don't care.
The point is just being there.
Although many of my memories of Gerry involve fishing, the funny thing is that he
and I only fished together once.
Before he became too sick to get out much, we took him over to a lake by the
highway in Rifle. We spent the afternoon sitting on lawn chairs, drinking beer
and fishing for stocked trout using salmon eggs and worms. He talked for hours
about fly fishing, his old girlfriends, his ex-wives, and life in general.
I think he had a good time, but it took a lot out of him physically. Of course,
he made sure we took a few home for dinner that night.
Gerry is gone now, I'm no longer married to his daughter, and I have three grandsons
of my own. I still think of him when I take that old rod and drive up into the mountains.
Inexpensive even by 1946 standards, it wasn't a big name brand or fancy. The only
important name associated with it was Gerry's. It's in great shape and I intend to keep
it that way. I want Gerry's great-great-great-grandkids to be fishing with it when it's
100 years old. It would be a shame for Gerry's rod to end up hanging on a wall
somewhere because people were afraid to use an antique.
I also hope that my grandsons remember to tell their kids what Gerry told me: Fish
the whole river. Keep it simple. The point of being there IS being there - not catching
fish. However, if they do happen to catch a few, I hope they think of Gerry while
enjoying dinner. ~ Ken Hackler